80s rock moment: REO Speedwagon

One of the great bands of my youth was REO Speedwagon. The band’s most commercially successful albums, Hi Infidelity (1980), Wheels Are Turnin’ (1985) and Life As We Know It (1987) were all released in my adolescent/teen years.

REO Speedwagon’s ballad, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was near the top of the charts throughout the spring of 1985, my junior year in high school.

In the above video, the band’s lead singer, Kevin Cronin, performs the song as a duet with his daughter at a music festival in 2019.

This is a song about falling in love, so nothing original about the theme. But there are a million ways to fall in love, and a million angles on it. The angle here is innocence, commitment, etc. There was something refreshing about this ballad even in the comparatively simple world of 1985. It is especially refreshing now, in these cynical, dysfunctional times of the 2o2os. 

“What started out as friendship has grown stronger…” That would be a good way to fall in love, wouldn’t it?

YouTube serial fiction updates: channel relaunch/reboot

I am giving the YouTube thing another try. 

As some of you may know, I’m not exactly a huge fan of social media. This has little to do with the current political controversies, or any beef with the personalities who dominate the tech sphere. I simply don’t like the idea of a few large corporations sucking up so much of the traffic on the Internet.

But YouTube has a lot of potential for storytelling, so I’m making an exception. (That’s one thing about getting older: accepting the inevitability of compromise with one’s heartfelt ideals.)

In the first video below, I explain my reasons for giving YouTube another chance. I’ll summarize these below:

1.) The performative aspect

Although I’m an introvert, I actually like an audience. I’m something of a ham, in fact.

When I was a teenager, I was briefly in a garage band. A few times in my life, I have been in roles/functions where it was necessary for me to give speeches. Far from suffering from stage fright, I rather like the stage.

So why not do it with storytelling? (Believe me: you do not want to hear me sing.)

2.) Marketing

I relate in the video how I became a super-fan of the Canadian rock band Rush in the early 1980s. 

I did not get into Rush because I saw a cleverly designed ad with a hooky tagline and a compelling “call to action”. I became a fan of Rush because I heard their music

I remember, in the fall of 1982, hearing “The Analog Kid” from Rush’s Signals album, which was then hot off the presses. I bought Signals, and all of the other Rush albums that were available at that time.

The same thing occurred with the more commercial (and more widely popular) band, Def Leppard. I heard “Photograph” on FM radio and bought Pyromania shortly thereafter…just like a gazillion other teenagers of that era.

Of course, I didn’t like all the music I heard on the radio in those days. I was no particular fan of A Flock of Seagulls, The Eurythmics, or Culture Club. 

The point is: marketing a creative product should involve sharing that product with the world, either in whole, or in part. (Jeff Goins wrote an article about this in 2016: A More Tasteful Alternative to Self-promotion: Practice in Public.)

Some people will like what you have on offer, others won’t. That’s okay; that’s part of the process.

“Practicing in public” is the way musicians and bands have been marketing themselves since time immemorial. I would like to see how it can work for me, as a storyteller. 

‘The Rockland Horror 3’ is out!

The third installment of The Rockland Horror saga is now available on Amazon:

The 20th century holds new horrors for Rockland, Indiana!

The year is 1917. In faraway Europe, the Great War rages on. The world waits anxiously to see if U.S. President Woodrow Wilson will take America into the conflict.

By now, the events of 1882 are fading into the stuff of legend, for all but the town of Rockland’s oldest residents.

But a few still remember what happened.

And the old horrors are back. A road excavation on Washington Hill unearths a ghastly mass grave on the grounds of the unoccupied and decaying Briggs House.

Meanwhile, the house draws an infamous (but never identified or captured) serial killer. The Briggs House inspires him to kill again…and again.

Join the 75-year-old Bill Cartwright, the middle-aged Louisa Goodwin Daniels, and Constable Elias Conklin, as they fight a terrifying and climactic battle with the dark forces of the Briggs House.

Evil things from the first chapter to the last!

View THE ROCKLAND HORROR 3 on Amazon!

The first ‘Star Wars’ generation

I remember sitting in a cinema one day in the early summer of 1977. I was just shy of nine years old, so I was there with my dad.

My dad wanted to see this new movie called Star Wars.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but my dad (then barely in his thirties) was excited about it. So I went along, too. My mom had no interest the movie. (My mom liked very few movies that didn’t involve horses.)

I remember watching the opening scenes. The big spaceships on the big screen. Oh, man, I was immediately hooked.

I know: this essay has already veered into cliché. By this point, everyone has seen those scenes in the original Star Wars movie. The CGI effects in 21st-century movies like Avatar, moreover, have since surpassed our collective ability to be visually amazed.

But keep in mind: in 1977, the average feature film was a Burt Reynolds movie that relied on conventional car chases. (In fact, one such movie—Smokey and the Bandit—was released within a few weeks of Star Wars.)

Most of the available science fiction in 1977 was campy and already a decade old. There was Star Trek, of course. But Star Trek was made in the 1960s, and it showed in the production values.

There was also Lost in Space, which had its original prime-time run between 1965 and 1968. (Oh, and the first season of Lost in Space was in black and white.)

I won’t tell you about Star Wars and how it was different because well…you already know. But you might not know what it was like to be part of the first Star Wars generation.

To truly get that, you have to have been there.

America in the 1970s was an unsettled place. The country was on a hangover from Vietnam, the counterculture, the 1960s, Watergate.

Many of the Baby Boomers, then at the peak of their childbearing years, were trying to reconcile parenthood with all the Me Generation stuff.

I should note that my parents were the exception in this regard. I had wonderful parents and—on the whole—an idyllic childhood. But my childhood was the exception. This was an era of small families, divorce, and adults working in parenthood as an afterthought. The 1970s was not a child-focused decade, on the whole.

This showed up in the marketplace. Corporate America didn’t put out much entertainment for children, because the demand wasn’t there, like it was from the mid-1980s onward. For most children, circa 1976, Saturday morning cartoons (mostly reruns from the 1960s) were the highlight of the week.

But then there was Star Wars. If you were a kid in that era, Star Wars was not just a movie, but a way of life…or a way of play, anyway.

Star Wars trading card, 1977

Publishers cranked out Star Wars trading cards and comics. Toy manufacturers rushed light sabers and action figures to market. There was always something new to buy…or to beg your parents to buy.

Burger Chef, a now defunct fast food chain, issued a set of Star Wars posters in 1977. Each one was given away with the purchase of a double hamburger meal, or something like that. I talked my parents into acquiring all of them.

My bedroom became a shrine to Star Wars. My room contained not just the posters, but all the paraphernalia I could acquire.

Burger Chef Star Wars poster 1977

I’ve watched the more recent Star Wars movies. I know that the last few have been controversial among longtime fans. I’m not interested in wading into that debate. For me, the first three movies—Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) are the only three “canonical” ones, anyway.

These three films traced the end of my childhood, effectively. I was nine when the first one came out. When Return of the Jedi hit the local cinema, I had completed a year of high school.

But this is about more than mere nostalgia. In recent years, the culture wars have invaded science fiction, superhero comics, and whatnot. There was little appetite for that in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Why? That era was already full of gloomy, abstruse movies that were overloaded with “message” and “issues”. And in the 1970s, the issue du jour was the Vietnam War, which was still very much in recent memory.

And so we got turgid, barely watchable films like The Deer Hunter (1978), Taxi Driver (1976), and Apocalypse Now (1979). In 1978, I remember hearing a news story about a Vietnam vet shooting himself at a screening of The Deer Hunter. That movie is incredibly gloomy and depressing to watch, as are the other two. (And the Jodie Foster scenes in Taxi Driver, in which she plays a child prostitute, are downright bizarre by today’s standards.)

Star Wars offered a break from all that. Star Wars was a movie about a war in space that didn’t ask you to think about Vietnam. Nor did it ask you to think about the nuclear arms race—another big “issue” of that time.

The original Star Wars trilogy had a relatively diverse cast. It wasn’t all white males in the spotlight. Who can imagine Star Wars without Carrie Fisher, after all? And the third movie of the original trilogy made a major star of Billy Dee Williams.

And yet, Star Wars didn’t ask audiences to engage in endless navel-gazing about race and gender. (These matters now greatly preoccupy the fandom of science fiction publishing, but that’s another “issue” for another time.)

The original three Star Wars movies were simply fun. They weren’t controversial. They didn’t try to change your worldview or your politics. Practically everyone liked them. (Even my mother relented and saw the second and third Star Wars movies, despite their lack of horses.)

And if you were a kid in the late 1970s, Star Wars was larger than life.

I’ll close with a blunt assertion: I think it’s high time for the film and comics industries to retire the franchise. To put this in perspective: I was not quite nine when the first movie came out. I’ll soon be fifty-three, and they’re still riding the Star Wars wagon, trying to squeeze a few more million out of the original story concept.

But who cares what I think? Maybe I’ll see the next Star Wars movie, and maybe I won’t. It’s not like I’m boycotting them. But like I said: for me, the first three are the only ones that really count.

Horror sequels and haunted office buildings

Book 3 of The Rockland Horror saga is now live on Amazon. There will also be a Book 4. (I already have the basic story mapped out, in fact.)  At present, though, I’m working on a sequel to Eleven Miles of Night.

Eleven Miles of Night is set in 2013, and was published in that year. The next book in what will become the Jason Kelley series will take place eight years later, in 2021. It will involve Jason’s re-entry into the world of paranormal research.

(You may recall that Jason swore off paranormal research at the end of Eleven Miles of Night, because he was so shaken by what he encountered on the Shaman’s Highway.)

In the next book, Jason’s challenge will be not a haunted road, but a haunted office building.

Why an office building? Oh, trust me, office buildings can be very creepy after-hours. And I have a very creepy one planned for Book 2 in the Jason Kelley series.

If you haven’t yet read Eleven Miles of Night, now might be a good time to do so!

1980s music: Susanna Hoffs

I’m from the 1980s, as many of you may know. (Actually, I never really left.) I still love pop and rock music from that era. Iron Maiden, Foreigner, AC/DC, Journey…I love ‘em all.

But there were also some great all-female acts during the 1980s. My favorite, hands down, was The Bangles.

The charismatic lead singer of The Bangles was Susanna Hoffs. Here she is performing “Manic Monday” before a live audience in 2021. This version is a little different, stylistically, from the original, but it’s basically the same song.

“Manic Monday” was released in 1986, my senior year in high school. I can’t hear it without being transported back to that time, which was a happy one for me. (I had a mostly positive adolescent/high school experience.)

Nothing else to add, except that Susanna Hoffs is still lovely and talented at 62. Enjoy the video.

And if you’re too young to remember the 1980s and that decade’s music, you might investigate some of The Bangles’ other songs on YouTube. The Bangles put Taylor Swift to shame, IMO.

Bosch Season 7: almost perfect

Yesterday I finished binge-watching Season 7 of Bosch on Amazon. The final season was nearly perfect. (And if you read some of my reviews on this site, you’ll know that I hardly ever declare anything “perfect”, or “nearly perfect”.)

I began reading the Harry Bosch novels more than 15 years ago, long before the Amazon series was even conceived. My original concept of Harry Bosch was a Baby Boomer and Vietnam vet, born around 1950.

The Harry Bosch of the Amazon series, meanwhile (portrayed by Titus Welliver), is a vaguely Gen X character. The Amazon version of Bosch would have been too young to have served in Vietnam; he served in the more recent wars of the Middle East instead.

Titus Welliver is now 59. I would imagine that Amazon’s Harry Bosch is supposed to be a few years younger than that…perhaps 54 or 55. But definitely not in his early 70s, like the Harry Bosch of the novels.

I understand why the producers of the Amazon series (which included Michael Connelly, the author of the novels) felt the need to “reimagine” Bosch as a younger character. When the first Harry Bosch novel, The Black Echo, came out in 1992, the fictional Harry Bosch was only 42 years old. Season 1 of the Amazon series debuted in 2015. By that time, the Harry Bosch of the novels was 65 years old, and working part-time in law enforcement on his DROP contract. It wouldn’t have made sense to have launched a new TV series with a main character who was winding up his career.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to adjust my concept of the main character when I began binge-watching the accumulated seasons of Bosch in 2019. But adjust, I did. For me, Titus Welliver’s dramatic interpretation of the character has now replaced the Harry Bosch of the novels.

Fortunately, Welliver will be back for the spin-off series planned for Amazon’s IMDb TV. Also returning will be Madison Lintz, who nailed the Maddie Bosch depicted in the novels.

Hopefully Lance Reddick, Jamie Hector, and Amy Aquino will return, too. This series was not only perfectly executed, it was perfectly cast, as well. My only complaint with Season 7 of Bosch is that there were only eight episodes.

Horror movie notes: ‘Don’t Breathe’:

Just a quick horror movie entry. The other day I finally got around to watching Don’t Breathe (2016).

This is a combination of a heist film, and a “monster in the house” horror movie.

Don’t Breathe is a very accessible, fast-paced film. Not one that is going to change your entire worldview or anything, but quite entertaining.

And according to the Internet, a sequel, Don’t Breathe 2, will hit the cinemas in August.

Curiously, the villain of the first film, Norman Nordstrom (played by Stephen Lang), seems to be cast as a kind of antihero vigilante in the next movie. (Note: This is based on what I’ve seen in the available previews.)

It is unclear, then, if Don’t Breathe 2 will really be a Don’t Breathe 2, or a twenty-first-century version of Death Wish. (For younger readers: I’m referring to the vigilante films that Charles Bronson starred in during the 1970s and early 1980s.)

When I read the Amazon and IMDB reviews for Don’t Breathe, I noticed something: many viewers tended to sympathize with the villain of the film.

This is not entirely unexpected. The premise of the heist portion of the movie is three young criminals robbing an older blind man who has suffered multiple tragedies. One of the criminals (the one who dies first) is extremely unlikable. The other two are morally ambiguous at best.

The villain, Norman Nordstrom, certainly has his character flaws. But the bottom line is: He would never have crossed paths with the three young burglars had they not broken into his home, with the intention of robbing him.

New iMac time, and why and when I upgrade

I last upgraded my Macs (I use an iMac and a MacBook Air) in June 2016. Which means that I was more than due for an upgrade, by any reasonable standard.

I take a conservative approach to upgrading computer equipment…just like I take a conservative approach to practically everything else. My criteria when contemplating a computer equipment upgrade are as follows:

a) Is the existing equipment starting to malfunction?

b.) Could the new equipment provide substantial benefits (as opposed to simply being “the latest thing”?)

My 2016 iMac, which actually rolled off the Apple assembly lines in 2015, was starting to have problems. The webcam had not worked for quite some time. This was preventing me from restarting my YouTube channel—something that has been on my to-do list for a while.

More recently, the mouse had gotten buggy. Last week, the mouse stopped moving laterally (in either the right or the left direction) at all.

Okay, it was time for an upgrade. So I took the plunge. And hey, Apple needs some more of my money, right?

***

I’m quite happy with the new iMac, which is shown in the photo at the top of this post. I won’t turn this into a sales pitch or a tech review, but I will elaborate on one feature that is near and dear to my heart: native dictation capabilities.

The Siri dictation functions on the Mac have improved greatly. Dictation is something that interests many writers concerned about repetitive stress injuries.

But dictation has been problematic for Mac users.

A few years ago, Nuance Communications stopped supporting its Dragon Dictate products on the Mac platform completely. That included support for people (like me) who had already bought it. Thanks, Nuance Communications!

***

Apple needed to make progress on its native dictation functionality. That seems to have happened.

I’ve been using the dictate function for composing several rough drafts. The Siri dictation is still not quite as accurate as Dragon Dictate is at its best. But Siri dictation is worlds better than it used to be.

Like I said, I’m conservative when it comes to upgrades. Not only is there the cost of the new equipment to consider, but also the hassles involved in moving everything over to the new machine(s). My 2015 MacBook Air, purchased in 2016, continues to function with relatively few problems. I’ll probably replace it by the end of the year, but I’m in no hurry just yet.

Two recent horror films: one good, one not so good

I recently watched two horror movies of relatively recent vintage: The Unholy (2021) and Hereditary (2018).

What follows are two (very) brief reviews.

The Unholy

The Unholy is a film about a hearing-impaired teenage girl who appears to be channeling the Virgin Mary. What she is actually channeling, however, is not Mary, but a malevolent spiritual force.

This film, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Negan” on The Walking Dead) and newcomer Crickett Brown, was excellent.

Anyone familiar with Catholic-Protestant differences regarding saints and religious imagery will appreciate the “what if?” scenario here. This film explores a key question of the Reformation from a fully modern, supernatural perspective. (The film even quotes Martin Luther.)

I was raised Roman Catholic, and—with all due respect to the Protestants in the room—that’s the way I roll. No thank you, I am not interested in attending your non-denominational church. (But thanks, again, for the invitation.)

Nevertheless, I am also not above taking a critical approach to some aspects of my Roman Catholic faith. Roman Catholicism does, indeed, include a cult of saints, and a cult of the Virgin Mary. Protestants who point out the pagan similarities here are not completely in left field.

The Unholy is well-paced and entertaining. That said, this is not a movie for someone looking for a simple monster flick with jump scares. If you don’t like ideas in your horror, skip this one.

I would give The Unholy high marks for the acting, story, script, and concept. The special effects, however, were right out of the 1980s. The early 1980s.

The fake fire, in particular, looks like fire from a B-movie, circa 1983. Given everything else that the filmmakers did right, they shouldn’t have cut corners on the special effects. And they definitely did cut corners.

Hereditary

Grandma is dead, but grandma was a satanist. That’s the setup behind Hereditary.

The movie starts on the day of the grandmother’s funeral. The surviving family of four (the parents and two kids) slowly fall prey to a curse that involves (spoiler alert) a satanist plot.

Hereditary is a disturbing movie. I am by no means a sensitive viewer. But even I required a good 24 hours to fully purge this movie from my mind.

Hereditary contains plenty of otherworldly events and phenomena. But it also contains graphic and realistic depictions of extreme family turmoil, corpse mutilation, and (in one scene) the accidental beheading of a child.

(Yes, really. Graphic violence against children is a line that movies usually don’t cross; but this one did.)

Many horror movies take us to dark places. That is a part of the horror movie experience, and a part of the ride. The real problem with Hereditary is not its darkness, but its complete lack of redemption, or even a glimmer of hope. I won’t tell you what the ending is, but suffice it to say that this movie ends on a very down note.

Several of the characters in the movie are sympathetic. None of them, however, could be properly described as heroic, or even proactive. They all sort of drift along, waiting for the next bad thing to happen. And as noted above, plenty of bad things do happen.

Hereditary is a technically competent film. The movie was shot in Utah, and the movie makes good use of the inherent otherworldliness of the Utah landscape. Hereditary is well-paced, despite its length of more than two hours. You won’t be tempted to look at your phone while you’re watching it.

Nevertheless, I’m not sure that you will emerge from Hereditary with any new insights, or even any provocative questions. And while there are some creepy moments, Hereditary isn’t an especially terrifying movie. This is no thrill ride. Mostly, it is simply disturbing.

***

Anyway, those are two of the horror films that I’ve watched recently. In summary, I highly recommend The Unholy (with a minor qualification regarding the amateurish special effects). As for Hereditary, well…proceed with caution.

View THE UNHOLY on Amazon.

View HEREDITARY on Amazon

The Headless Horseman returns

How I wrote a horror novel called Revolutionary Ghosts

Or…

Can an ordinary teenager defeat the Headless Horseman, and a host of other vengeful spirits from America’s revolutionary past?

The big idea

I love history, and I love supernatural horror tales.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was therefore always one of my favorite short stories. This classic tale by Washington Irving describes how a Hessian artillery officer terrorized the young American republic several decades after his death.

The Hessian was decapitated by a Continental Army cannonball at the Battle of White Plains, New York, on October 28, 1776. According to some historical accounts, a Hessian artillery officer really did meet such an end at the Battle of White Plains. I’ve read several books about warfare in the 1700s and through the Age of Napoleon. Armies in those days obviously did not have access to machine guns, flamethrowers, and the like. But those 18th-century cannons could inflict some horrific forms of death, decapitation among them.

I was first exposed to the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” via the 1949 Disney film of the same name. The Disney adaptation was already close to 30 years old, but still popular, when I saw it as a kid sometime during the 1970s.

Headless Horsemen from around the world

While doing a bit of research for Revolutionary Ghosts, I discovered that the Headless Horseman is a folklore motif that reappears in various cultures throughout the world.

In Irish folklore, the dullahan or dulachán (“dark man”) is a headless, demonic fairy that rides a horse through the countryside at night. The dullahan carries his head under his arm. When the dullahan stops riding, someone dies.

Scottish folklore includes a tale about a headless horseman named Ewen. Ewen was  beheaded when he lost a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. His death prevented him from becoming a chieftain. He roams the hills at night, seeking to reclaim his right to rule.

Finally, in English folklore, there is the 14th century epic poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. After Gawain kills the green knight in living form (by beheading him) the knight lifts his head, rides off, and challenges Gawain to a rematch the following year.

But Revolutionary Ghosts is focused on the Headless Horseman of American lore: the headless horseman who chased Ichabod Crane through the New York countryside in the mid-1790s. 

The Headless Horseman isn’t the only historical spirit to stir up trouble in the novel. John André, the executed British spy, makes an appearance, too. (John André was a real historical figure.)

I also created the character of Marie Trumbull, a Loyalist whom the Continental Army sentenced to death for betraying her country’s secrets to the British. But Marie managed to slit her own throat while still in her cell, thereby cheating the hangman. Marie Trumbull was a dark-haired beauty in life. In death, she appears as a desiccated, reanimated corpse. She carries the blade that she used to take her own life, all those years ago.

Oh, and Revolutionary Ghosts also has an army of spectral Hessian soldiers. I had a lot of fun with them!

The Spirit of ’76

Most of the novel is set in the summer of 1976. An Ohio teenager, Steve Wagner, begins to sense that something strange is going on near his home. There are slime-covered hoofprints in the grass. There are unusual sounds on the road at night. People are disappearing.

Steve gradually comes to an awareness of what is going on….But can he convince anyone else, and stop the Headless Horseman, before it’s too late?

I decided to set the novel in 1976 for a number of reasons. First of all, this was the year of the American Bicentennial. The “Spirit of ’76 was everywhere in 1976. That created an obvious tie-in with the American Revolution.

Nineteen seventy-six was also a year in which Vietnam, Watergate, and the turmoil of the 1960s were all recent memories. The mid-1970s were a time of national anxiety and pessimism (kind of like now). The economy was not good. This was the era of energy crises and stagflation.

Reading the reader reviews of Revolutionary Ghosts, I am flattered to get appreciative remarks from people who were themselves about the same age as the main character in 1976:

“…I am 62 years old now and 1976 being the year I graduated high school, I remember it pretty well. Everything the main character mentions (except the ghostly stuff), I lived through and remember. So that was an added bonus for me.”

“I’m 2 years younger than the main character so I could really relate to almost every thing about him.”

I’m actually a bit younger than the main character. In 1976 I was eight years old. But as regular readers of this blog will know, I’m nostalgic by nature. I haven’t forgotten the 1970s or the 1980s, because I still spend a lot of time in those decades.

If you like the 1970s, you’ll find plenty of nostalgic nuggets in Revolutionary Ghosts, like Bicentennial Quarters, and the McDonald’s Arctic Orange Shakes of 1976.

***

Also, there’s something spooky about the past, just because it is the past. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

For me, 1976 is a year I can clearly remember. And yet—it is shrouded in a certain haziness. There wasn’t nearly as much technology. Many aspects of daily life were more “primitive” then.

It isn’t at all difficult to believe that during that long-ago summer, the Headless Horseman might have come back from the dead to terrorize the American heartland…

View REVOLUTIONARY GHOSTS on Amazon

Kindle Vella launching for readers in July

Several months ago, Amazon rolled out its new Kindle Vella program to writers. Amazon has just announced that readers will have access to Kindle Vella by the end of July.

What is Kindle Vella, exactly? It’s a serial fiction app, somewhat analogous to Royal Road, Tapas, Radish, and Wattpad.

Will Vella prove the death knell of these other services? Who knows? But the fates of Barnes & Noble and Borders suggest that this might not be a good time to be purchasing shares of Wattpad, if it were publicly traded.

***

Will I publish on Kindle Vella? Probably. Eventually. But not right away. I like the idea of serial fiction, but I am most concerned with giving readers what they want. I’m not sure that most of my readers really want micropayment-based serial novels.

Initially, at least, success on Kindle Vella will probably go to certain kinds of genres, for certain kinds of readers. Which kinds? Well, probably the ones that are already successful on sites like Royal Road and Wattpad. This means: YA romance, YA fantasy, and YA science fiction, often with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean anime tropes.

These kinds of fiction are perfectly fine, but none of these categories is really my bailiwick. I’m 52 years old, and I usually write with the adult reader in mind. I have some idea of what a certain kind of Baby Boomer, Generation X, or older Millennial reader might want. A Gen Z reader…not so much. So I’ll probably proceed slowly where Kindle Vella is concerned.

Whatever Amazon does, Amazon usually does well. I see only one problem here, and that involves revenue. While there are paid stories on the various web serial sites that already exist, much of that content is presently provided for free.

Web serial readers not only skew younger, many of them are also outside the United States. Only about 25% of Wattpad’s traffic is U.S.-based.

Nothing against non-U.S. readers (or younger readers, for that matter). But it’s worth asking: will a medium that is mostly patronized by younger, non-U.S. readers elsewhere find traction with the over 35, U.S.-based readers that are currently Amazon’s bread-and-butter?

I don’t know, but I’m sure someone inside Amazon has considered those questions.

Vella could could turn out to be as ground-breaking as the Kindle was, changing the way millions of people read. Or…maybe not so much. I wouldn’t want to bet money on this one either way.

Goodbye to Goodreads

I’ve closed both my author and personal accounts on Goodreads. My books will still be listed there, of course; but I’ll no longer maintain an active presence there.

Since its launch in 2006, Goodreads has inspired both enthusiastic fans and detractors. There are controversies about the outdated design of the site, and whether or not Goodreads has declined since it was acquired by Amazon in 2013. I’ll leave those debates to others.

Since I first dabbled with Goodreads almost a decade ago, I have found it to be neither a uniformly good nor bad experience. Goodreads is social media. And all social media is a mixture of good and bad, best encapsulated in the acronym, YMMV.

Most of the people I interacted with on Goodreads were pleasant. I also ran across a few yahoos, of course. Once again: social media.

But it’s important to remember that Goodreads is for readers, not writers. I don’t want to be the author on Goodreads who is shouting “buy my book!” Nor is anyone served by the writer who hovers over reader-reviewers.

Nor does a Goodreads account really serve me as a reader-reviewer at this point, because I mostly don’t do that anymore. Once I started seriously publishing my own fiction, I became hesitant to review other people’s books on Amazon, etc. That’s a bit like Ford Motor Company reviewing the latest Toyota Camry, right? If I really want to say something about another author’s book (and that isn’t often), I generally say it here, on my own website.

Finally, throughout this past year I’ve been reassessing my relationship with social media. Since the whole social media thing began about fifteen years ago, I’ve been on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the now defunct Google+. At least I never had a MySpace page.

I’ve really gained very little from social media, either spiritually or monetarily. (YouTube, though, is useful if you want to know how to fix a leaky toilet.)

And so it goes with Goodreads. I don’t exactly hate Goodreads, but nor do I particularly like it or need it. This is not a personal boycott or a blanket condemnation of Goodreads. If the site works for you, then by all means continue to use it. But it no longer works for me.

‘The Appearance’: not quite a horror film, not quite something else

A well-intentioned church official in Middle Ages Europe must uncover the truth about an accusation of witchcraft. But what if the accused “witch” really is a “witch”? And what if her past ordeals make her story a sympathetic one?

That’s the general setup for The Appearance (2018). Mateho the Inquisitor (Jake Stormoen), and his assistant (Kristian Nairn, of “Game of Thrones” fame) are called to a remote monastery to investigate a series of gruesome murders, and to interrogate the teenage ‘witch’ (Baylee Self) who has been accused of the crimes.

At first, The Appearance seems to be a dark murder mystery. But then things go wrong, and the film becomes a horror flick patterned loosely on The Exorcist, but much weaker sauce.

The claustrophobic setting of the monastery offered a lot of potential, but the script never really exploits it. There are moments of genuine suspense, but these occur between long, slow stretches.

There is one scene in which a monk’s eyes are literally ripped out. Whenever a movie contains gratuitous sex or gore, that’s usually a sign that the moviemakers weren’t sure what they were doing, or wanted to do. While the gore here is certainly gross, the over-the-top nature of it jolts the viewer out of the film. It comes across as somewhat cheesy.

(Small spoiler alert.) The Appearance closes with a “surprise” that you’ve seen versions of in the past. So it really isn’t that much of a surprise. I won’t tell you exactly what it is.

It appears, however, that the creators of this movie felt obligated to inject a social message: the mistreatment of women in the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Church’s contradictory views on femininity and sexuality. These are neither invalid nor unworthwhile themes. But they’ve been covered more adeptly in other recent works, such as James Carroll’s 2019 novel, The Cloister. The way the ending comes about, the “message” of The Appearance seems tacked on and almost random.

Bottom line: this is an okay movie, but it lacks an overall coherency. After watching it, I was unclear of what the filmmakers envisioned. A horror movie? A mystery? The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Exorcist? I wasn’t sure.

Finally, The Appearance, at nearly two hours, is a little overlong. The script doesn’t justify that much time. This should have been an 80- to 90-minute film.

**View The Appearance on Amazon**

In the dog days of summer, “think January”

Today I mowed both my lawn and my dad’s lawn in 90-degree, near 100% humidity weather.

I sweated about two gallons. That was five hours ago, and I’m still trying to rehydrate myself. More water, please!

(Note: The only truly pleasant season in Southern Ohio is late autumn, from about mid-October through Thanksgiving. The rest of the year, the weather here swings between various disagreeable extremes. So…don’t move to Southern Ohio unless you have to. The weather here sucks.)

Today’s sweltering heat brings back a particular memory: In late August of 1982, I began my freshman year of high school. My high school had no air conditioning.

I recall taking an afternoon English class on the second floor of the school. It was hot, really hot. The entire class was sweating.

And let me be clear: this was 1982. It wasn’t as if air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet. So why wasn’t the school air-conditioned? I wondered.

Our teacher, in a wry acknowledgement of our suffering, wrote the following on the blackboard one afternoon before beginning the day’s lecture:

THINK JANUARY

That brought a laugh—or at least a chuckle—from every 14-year-old in the room. And for whatever reason, I’ve never forgotten it. Today, almost 40 years later, I shall be “thinking January” with the above photo.

(I actually took the photo on February 10th of this year; but that’s close enough.)

Wherever you are, dear reader, I hope the weather is more pleasant today in your part of the world. I repeat: don’t move to Southern Ohio unless absolutely necessary. The weather here sucks.